Armed police out in force across Europe in wake of Brussels attacks

French soldiers patrol inside the Charles de Gaulle International Airport in Roissy, near Paris, France, March 23, 2016 © Philippe Wojazer
Emergency patrols, beefed up security at transport hubs and a heavier armed police presence have become the new reality in Europe, following the deadly Brussels attacks.

The Netherlands' National Coordinator for Security and Counter-Terrorism (NCTV) agency said on Wednesday that Dutch military police would carry heavier arms to ensure the security of ‘high-risk sites’ such as government buildings, parliament, Jewish institutions and major transit hubs and border crossings. The agency, however, has not specified the exact type of weapons officers would carry.

Earlier, Norway also announced it would temporarily arm all police patrols in the capital Oslo.

“This is because of the unresolved situation in Belgium, both in terms of the scope of the attack and who is behind it,” acting police chief Roger Andresen told broadcaster NTB on Tuesday.

Norway's Police Security Service (PTS) pointed out that the level of the terror threat to the country remains unchanged – although it hasn’t excluded the possibility that the situation may escalate.

“We have no information indicating that the threat has changed. But that may change quickly," PST communications director Trond Hugubakken said, as cited by Norway Today. 

"Norwegian police are already in an elevated emergency situation. Parts of the anti-terrorist plans were implemented after the terrorist attacks in Paris. And these measures are still in force," he added.

The Austrian Interior Ministry might equip police officers with private handguns, which they would be able to use while off-duty to rebuff a possible terrorist attack on the ground, the Local reported. The country has seen a dramatic increase in gun sales over the past year.

If the plan to arm police with handguns is implemented, about 28,000 passes for personal weapons will be issued to Austrian officers.

France had already boosted security in the aftermath of the Paris attacks in November 2015, which claimed the lives of 130 people. It has now deployed another 1,600 police officers to patrol airports, train stations, the Paris metro and other communication hubs, French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve announced on Tuesday, stressing that “it is essential to maintain vigilance.”

Speaking to Europe 1 radio, French PM Manuel Valls admitted that the level of the terror threat in Europe is “probably higher” than even in November, when a series of deadly attacks rocked the French capital.

He urged the European community to introduce a European passenger name record (PNR) system as part of the response to the “expansion of radical Islamism.”

“We must move quickly… It is urgent to strengthen the control of EU external borders,” he added.

The UK has stepped up security at airports, railway stations, and London transport hubs, including the Tube, as well as at key ports such as Calais and Dover.

“As a precaution, forces across the UK have increased policing presence at key locations, including transport hubs, to protect the public and provide reassurance,” said Metropolitan Police Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley following the British government’s emergency response committee meeting on Tuesday.

Twin blasts went off at Brussels’ Zaventem Airport and an explosion rocked the Maalbeek Metro station close to EU institutions on Tuesday morning. The attacks left at least 31 people dead and over 260 injured.

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